Posted: February 13, 2012, 6 a.m. EST
Q: I had two female rats called Dorothy and Toto. About three months ago Dorothy died of what I suspect was a tumor, so Toto has been left alone. I live in Australia, and rats aren't very common pets here. I've done a lot of research on rats, but vet care and credible, helpful information is pretty hard to come by. I took my rats to the vet when they were a bit younger to try and get help for their sneezing and respiratory issues. The vet was helpful and gave them medication but really didn't know a lot about rats. Toto is about 2.5 years old, and I'm not sure what to do. I know she's lonely because she is by herself, and I don't always have enough time to spend with her. She is in her cage sleeping a lot, and I feel horrible that she is lonely and unhappy and not getting the attention she needs from me or another rat to live a happy life. Should I get another rat so she can have company? I've been putting off getting another rat, because I don't want to get a younger rat and be stuck in the same situation again, but I'm scared to get an older one from a shelter in case Toto and the new rat don't get on or the new rat hasn't been handled well. And I'm not sure how much longer Toto has, because she's an older rat. I don't really want to get two younger rats, because I'm not sure if I'll have time in the future to properly look after rats (due to university and work, meaning I'm not home a lot). If I did get rats again, I think I'd like to get males. Do you think I should get Toto a friend or just try and spend as much time with her as I can so she can hopefully have a somewhat happy life for the remainder of it?
A: I've heard many stories about the difficulties of owning rats in Australia, and I commend you for doing all you could for Dorothy. You are now faced with a very common and extremely difficult decision for Toto. If Toto was a little younger I would strongly recommend getting a pair of young rats to keep her company. By introducing a young pair you would provide the older rat with companionship, but you would also supply the baby rats with a "same age" play companion, and they would remain together when the original rat passes on.
However, at 2.5 years old Toto is considered an elderly rat that could be stressed by the addition of new cagemates. I recommend spoiling her with lots of treats, giving her plenty of warm cozy sleeping places, spending every moment with her that you can and making these final months the best that they can possibly be.
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